A few years ago, the only thing I wanted for my birthday was a Vitruvi diffuser. I was sucked in by the idea of a constant source of home fragrance I could buy once and leave running all through the day—doesn’t it sound amazing? But once I got the thing, I barely used it. The essential oils it diffused couldn’t hold a candle, literally speaking, to a candle, and there was nothing luxurious or transportive about their one-note botanic conspicuity. Fragrance is supposed to be intoxicating! Essential oils remind me of lackluster things like standing in the Aveda product closet as an aesthetician-in-training, mopping up my own sweat after a too-hard yoga class, or draining a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s over several months of unnoteworthy showers. (Sorry! They’re boring and you can’t convince me otherwise!)
Now I use my diffuser all the time. I love it! And the trick wasn’t learning to like the smell of lavender; it was finding diffuser blends that replicated the strong, more complex scents I was used to in candles. Once I stumbled upon one refined diffuser scent I started looking for more, and now I have a full bag of options for whatever mood I’m in. (Mind you, the whole bag still takes up less space than two candles, and each scent is under $30.) Have a diffuser you’re ready to upgrade? Well, start here:
The Mixed Bag: Saje
Likeness to a candle: 3/10
Saje makes about a million diffuser scents and blends, and a quick scan of their website can feel overwhelming. Most of them are what you’d typically imagine an essential oil blend to be: rearrangements of calming herbs that smell like a yogi. Meh. I thought I’d have success with the woody, pine-y scents, but it turns out diffusers can’t quite capture the smokiness like Feu de Bois can. I did like Glow, a not-too-sweet blend of ginger, vanilla, and cinnamon. But the most interesting part of Saje is actually its diffuser-friendly versions of botanical fragrance notes—things like jasmine, sandalwood, and rose. While Saje scents are typically budget-friendly, a 2mL bottle of rose oil will set you back a pretty penny (over $100). Worth it? You decide.
The One That Started As A Lotion: Sangre de Fruta Signature Pure Essential Oil Blends
Likeness to a candle: 5/10
I love Sangre de Fruta’s body products—they leave my skin glistening and they smell amazing. Part of the brand’s old world apothecary-like charm is that each product comes in a selection of signature essential oil blend scents. They’re a through line for the brand, and if you love the way one of them smells, you can order shampoo, soap, oil, and lotion that smells exactly the same. Recently, Sangre also made the signature scents available for home fragrancing. (As the website copy exasperatedly announces, finally.) I tried all three, but my favorite is the blend of neroli, spikenard, and petitgrain called Neroli Forever. It matches my body cream in the same scent, but spikenard’s earthiness makes it darker than other neroli fragrances I know and love. A different appeal, but I get it.
The No-Brainer: Vitruvi Essential Oil Diffuser Blends
Likeness to a candle: 7/10
Vitruvi, the maker of my diffuser, also sells essential oils. I clicked right past their single origin oils (Which are lovely! Just not what I was looking for) and made a beeline for the blends. For Vitruvi, creating a blend is a little bit like alchemy: they only use essential oils, and sometimes they don’t smell like essential oils. For example, Velvet is described as “musk and French perfume,” but neither is an ingredient. Instead, it uses a combination of frankincense, bergamot, and amber for a similar powdery, skin-like scent. I like Velvet a lot, but the one I use the most is Nightcap. The blend of ginger, black pepper, and blood orange is fresh without being obvious and adds a bright effervescence when I diffuse it in the kitchen.
The Industry Secret: Aromatech Aroma Oils
Likeness to a candle: 10/10
The most perfume-y of the bunch come from a brand called Aromatech. Never heard of it? There’s a reason! Aromatech’s primary business is making HVAC diffusers, used to scent commercial spaces. But unlike most scent marketing companies, they also sell miniature bottles of their scents for personal, at-home use. A representative assured me they’d work fine in the Vitruvi I already own. Just one word to the wise, these guys are strong. The difference is in the composition of their “aroma oil” blends, made of essential oils, a carrier oil, and other natural fragrances. This also allows them to craft more complex scent profiles (Love Affair smells like Maison Francis Kurkdjian's Baccarat Rouge, Santal smells like… well, Santal). It throws like a candle and fills a room quickly. Rather than the 20 to 25 drops of my Vitruvi oil blend, an Aromatech scent only needs one or two.
Photo via ITG